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Arctic Report Card


V. Romanovsky1, N. Oberman2, D. Drozdov3, G. Malkova3, A. Kholodov1, S. Marchenko1

1Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK
MIREKO, Syktivkar, Russia
Earth Cryosphere Institute, Tumen, Russia

October 19, 2010


Observations show a general increase in permafrost temperatures during the last several decades in Alaska (Romanovsky et al., 2002; Romanovsky et al., 2007; Osterkamp, 2008; Smith et al., 2010), northwest Canada (Couture et al., 2003; Smith et al., 2005 and 2010), Siberia (Oberman and Mazhitova, 2001; Oberman, 2008; Drozdov et al., 2008; Romanovsky et al., 2010a), and Northern Europe (Isaksen et al., 2000; Harris and Haeberli, 2003; Christiansen et al., 2010). During the last five years, the warming of permafrost has significantly accelerated at many Arctic coastal locations in these regions.

Most of the permafrost observatories in Alaska show a substantial warming during the 1980s and 1990s. The detailed characteristic of the warming varies between locations, but is typically from 0.5 to 2°C at the depth of zero seasonal temperature variations in permafrost (Osterkamp, 2008). However, during the last 9 years, permafrost temperature has been relatively stable on the North Slope of Alaska (Smith et al., 2010). There was even a slight decrease in the Alaskan Interior during the last 3 years. Only coastal sites in Alaska still show continuous warming (e.g. Fig. P1), especially during the last three to four years. The data from the 2010 field season may indicate that, in Alaska, the observed warming trend observed along the coast has started to propagate southward towards the northern foothills of the Brooks Range (Fig. P2).

Changes in permafrost temperature at different depths at the Barrow, Alaska, Permafrost bservatory in 2002–09
Figure P1. Changes in permafrost temperature between 2002-2009 at different depths at the Barrow Permafrost Observatory, which lies along the northern coast of Alaska.

Location of the long-term University of Alaska permafrost observatories in northern Alaska
Changes in permafrost temperatures at 20 m depth during the last 27 to 32 years
Figure P2. Top: Location of the long-term University of Alaska permafrost observatories in northern Alaska. Bottom: Changes in permafrost temperatures at 20 m depth during the last 27 to 32 years (updated from Osterkamp, 2003).

Permafrost temperature has increased by 1 to 2°C in northern Russia during the last 30 to 35 years. A common feature for Alaskan, Canadian, and Russian sites is more significant warming in relatively cold permafrost than in warm permafrost in the same geographical area (Romanovsky et al., 2010b). An especially noticeable permafrost temperature increase in the Russian Arctic was observed during the last three years – the mean annual permafrost temperature at 15-m depth increased by more than 0.35°C in the Tiksi area and by 0.3°C at 10-m depth in the European North of Russia.

The last 30-years of increasing permafrost temperatures have resulted in the thawing of permafrost in areas of discontinuous permafrost in Russia (Oberman, 2008; Romanovsky et al., 2010a). This is evidenced by changes in the depth and number of taliks (a layer of year-round unfrozen ground that lies in permafrost), especially in sandy and sandy loam sediments compared to clay. A massive development of new closed taliks in some areas of the continuous permafrost zone, resulting from an increased snow cover and warming permafrost, was responsible for the observed northward movement of the boundary between continuous and discontinuous permafrost by several tens of kilometers (Oberman and Shesler, 2009).


Couture, R., S. Smith, S. D. Robinson, M. M. Burgess, and S. Solomon, 2003: On the hazards to infrastructure in the Canadian North associated with thawing of permafrost. Proceedings of Geohazards, 3rd Canadian Conference on Geotechnique and Natural Hazards. The Canadian Geotechnical Society: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; 97–104.

Christiansen, H. H, Etzelmüller, B., Isaksen, K., Juliussen, H., Farbrot, H., Humlum, O., Johansson, M., Ingeman-Nielsen, T., Kristensen, L., Hjort, J., Holmlund, P., Sannel, A. B. K., Sigsgaard, C., Åkerman, H. J., Foged, N., Blikra, L. H., Pernosky, M. A., and Ødegård, R., 2010: The Thermal State of Permafrost in the Nordic area during IPY 2007-2009. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 21: 156–181.

Drozdov, D. S., G. V. Malkova, and V. P. Melnikov, 2008: Recent Advances in Russian Geocryological Research: A Contribution to the International Polar Year, In Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Permafrost, June 29-July 3, Fairbanks, Alaska, 2008, Vol. 1, pp. 379-384.

Harris, C., and W. Haeberli, 2003: Warming permafrost in European mountains, World Meteorol. Org. Bull., 52(3), 6 pp., see also Global and Planetary Change, 39(2003), 215-225.

Isaksen, K., D. Vonder Mühll, H. Gubler, T. Kohl, and J. L. Sollid, 2000: Ground surface temperature reconstruction based on data from a deep borehole in permafrost at Janssonhaugen, Svalbard. Annals of Glaciology, 31, 287-294.

Oberman, N. G., 2008: Contemporary Permafrost Degradation of Northern European Russia, In Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Permafrost, June 29-July 3, Fairbanks, Alaska, 2008, Vol. 2, pp. 1305-1310.

Oberman, N. G., and G. G. Mazhitova, 2001: Permafrost dynamics in the northeast of European Russia at the end of the 20th century. Norwegian J. of Geography, 55, 241-244.

Oberman, N. G., and I. G. Shesler, 2009: Observed and projected changes in permafrost conditions within the European North-East of the Russian Federation, Problemy Severa I Arctiki Rossiiskoy Federacii (Problems and Challenges of the North and the Arctic of the Russian Federation), Vol. 9: 96-106 (in Russian).

Osterkamp, T. E., 2008: Thermal State of Permafrost in Alaska During the Fourth Quarter of the Twentieth Century (Plenary Paper), In Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Permafrost, June 29-July 3, Fairbanks, Alaska, 2008, Vol. 2, pp. 1333-1338.

Romanovsky, V. E., M. Burgess, S. Smith, K. Yoshikawa, and J. Brown, 2002: Permafrost temperature records: Indicator of climate change. Eos, Trans. Amer. Geophys. Union, 83(50), 589, 593-594.

Romanovsky, V. E., S. Gruber, A. Instanes, H. Jin, S. S. Marchenko, S. L. Smith, D. Trombotto, and K. M. Walter, 2007: Frozen Ground, Chapter 7, In: Global Outlook for Ice and Snow, Earthprint, UNEP/GRID, Arendal, Norway, pp. 181-200.

Romanovsky, V. E., Drozdov, D. S. Oberman, N. G., Malkova G. V., Kholodov A. L., Marchenko, S. S. , Moskalenko, N. G., Sergeev D. O., Ukraintseva, N. G., Abramov A. A., Gilichinsky, D. A., and A. A.Vasiliev, 2010a: Thermal State of Permafrost in Russia. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 21:136-155.

Romanovsky, V. E., Smith, S. L., and Christiansen, H. H., 2010b: Permafrost Thermal State in the Polar Northern Hemisphere during the International Polar
Year 2007-2009: a synthesis. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 21:106-116.

Smith, S. L., M. M. Burgess, D. Riseborough, and F. M. Nixon, 2005: Recent trends from Canadian permafrost thermal monitoring network sites. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 16, 19-30.

Smith, S. L., Romanovsky, V. E., Lewkowicz, A. G., Burn, C. R. Allard, M., Clow, G. D., Yoshikawa, K., and Throop, J., 2010: Thermal State of Permafrost in North America – A Contribution to the International Polar Year. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 21:117-135.

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